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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

I do not object to the deaconess and her work


Gifts

of clothes or food or fuel are not so well appreciated as the respectful hearing which clothes the teller with self-respect, the kind word and loving sympathy that feed the heart, the inspiring consolations of religious faith that animate and warm the soul, and such gifts women of sympathetic Christian hearts can ever render. As has been well said, "Shall the advantages of such a system be monopolized by those who have so little else to offer?"[96]

You may say, "I do not object to the deaconess and her work, but I do object to her distinctive dress. I do not believe in a uniform of charity." But let us consider the arguments that can be brought forward in favor of it. It is a distinctive garb because its wearer is a distinctive officer of the Church. Unless she were "set apart" by some uniform immediately and widely recognized how could she have the protection that is accorded her? Alike in every land where she is known, as we have seen, the deaconess can venture into any part of the great cities at any hour, and is invariably treated with respect. There is in the heart of the rudest and most lawless some trace of chivalry which recognizes the self-denying lives of these women. Then, in making her visits, the deaconess finds her dress an introduction that opens doors that would otherwise remain closed to her. It certainly is a convenient and economical garb, that saves a great deal of time and money to the wearer.

Are

not these advantages more than an offset to an ill-defined objection to the dress because it has been associated with women who are alien to our Protestant faith? This is a minor matter, however, and one that can be adjusted at liking.

You may say, "I do not like to think of a woman who is dear to me cut off from the pleasures of home life, and devoted to a life-time of work among those who, in many respects, must be repugnant to her tastes. It does not seem so high and beautiful a life as that which makes home a center, and carries on its activities from there."

But there are many women debarred from the pleasures of home life by God's direct providence to whom other duties and responsibilities have been allotted. And then this work may not necessarily be for life. It is true that when a Christian woman occupies the position of a deaconess she must relinquish wholly all other pursuits so long as she holds this office. Neither without grave and weighty reasons should she seek to leave it. It is her calling. The period of probation has its uses, not only in making the probationer familiar with the duties and tasks demanded of her, but in giving her time to test the strength of her call to service, that she may not, through enthusiasm, lightly assume the duties of the office, nor as lightly throw them aside.

But if a deaconess is called away to perform her duties as a sister or daughter, or if she desires to marry, she is free to do so, after giving due information to those with whom she is connected in work. Freedom and liberty are in every phase of this office.

As to the highest life for a woman, an archbishop of England well said some years ago, "that whatever life God gives to any woman is the highest life for that woman," and that "in becoming a deaconess a woman devoting herself to this life must believe that it is the highest life for her, and that in it she gives herself wholly to the Lord."[97]

There should be no country like America for the favorable development of the deaconess cause, because in no other have women such large freedom of action, and, if we may believe our friends, they have improved it well. A distinguished English historian has just given us what we are fain to accept as words of just and discriminating praise. "In no other country have women borne so conspicuous a part in the promotion of moral and philanthropic causes.... Their services in dealing with charities and reformatory institutions have been inestimable.... The nation, as a whole, owes to the active benevolence of its women, and their zeal in promoting social reforms, benefits which the customs of continental Europe would scarcely have permitted women to confer.... Those who know the work they have done and are doing in many a noble cause will admire still more their energy, their courage, their devotion. No country seems to owe more to its women than America does, nor to owe to them so much of what is best in social institutions, and in the beliefs that govern conduct."[98]


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